Sep 29, 2007

Protect Yourself from China's tainted seafood, toxic toothpaste, defective tires, more...

Recent recalls of imports from China have mounted to include millions of defective or tainted items, including seafood, toothpaste, pet food, tires and toys. The recalls have focused attention on just how dependent the US is on China for an array of goods -- about 80% of all toys we buy and nearly 22% of all seafood -- as well as on how risky those goods can be.

Recalls also have highlighted the inadequacy of our inspection system. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has only 450 inspectors to inspect the nearly 20 million shipments of food that enter the country each year. That means each consumer has to be extra vigilant.

To explore ways to protect ourselves, Bottom Line/Personal interviewed two leading consumer advocates -- food and drug safety adviser William Hubbard and product safety authority Donald L. Mays. Both testified recently at congressional hearings and shared insights into how to guard against dangerous items from China...

Food and drugs. Federal rules requiring retailers to label country of origin for a wide range of foods were supposed to take effect in 2004 but were postponed for most types of food until September 30, 2008. Those rules are in effect for seafood but are widely ignored. Also, if you buy a prepared seafood product, such as shrimp scampi in a package, as long as the processing occurred here, it is labeled "Made in USA" no matter where the seafood and other ingredients originated.


Seafood Problem: Toxic contaminants.

Recall: In July, the FDA declared an import alert for five types of seafood from China -- catfish, shrimp, eel, dace (a carplike fish) and basa (similar to catfish). Contaminants -- including residues of nitrofuran, an antibiotic drug used to keep fish free from certain bacteria... the toxic chemicals malachite green and gentian violet... and the antibiotic fluoroquinolone -- were found in more than 15% of the tested fish. The first three substances are carcinogens, and the fourth may increase resistance to important antibiotics, such as Cipro.

Under the alert, seafood shipments are held at the US border until importers conduct independent testing to show that the seafood is safe. Despite the import alert, at least one million pounds of suspect Chinese seafood has slipped past the inspectors.

Self-defense: Avoid seafood from China. Whenever possible, buy local freshwater fish, such as rainbow trout. Buy prepared products only at stores and from companies that you trust and that assure you that they do not buy seafood from China.

Check on seafood recalls with your state agricultural department. State agencies often do more extensive testing on food than the federal government does. To find the Web site of your state agricultural department, go to and click on "Agriculture."


Toothpaste Problem: Contains diethylene glycol (DEG),

DEG is a chemical used in antifreeze and as an industrial solvent. It can damage the kidneys as well as the central nervous system. DEG tastes sweet and is used as a cheaper substitute for pharmaceutical-grade glycerin, a sweetening thickener.

Recalls: In June, the FDA warned consumers to discard all toothpaste that was labeled as made in China after DEG was discovered in some tubes. In August, the manufacturer Gilchrest & Soames recalled complimentary tubes distributed to hotels in more than a dozen countries. To date, there have been no reports of poisoning.

Self-defense: Buy major brands at local drugstores and supermarkets. Don't buy toothpaste at flea markets or 99-cent stores, where most of the questionable products were distributed. Counterfeit toothpastes may have a foreign language instead of English on the packaging.


Pharmaceuticals Problem: DEG contamination.

 Cough syrups and an acetaminophen syrup from China that contained DEG have caused a number of deaths among children in Panama and Haiti. So far, there have been no problems with Chinese-made drugs and herbal supplements in the US.

Self-defense: Make sure that any medicine you use is a known and trusted brand name and that it has an English-language label.


Pet Food Problem: Contains melamine

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer. Pet food contaminated with melamine resulted in the illness or death of at least 4,000 cats and dogs.

Recalls: More than 150 brands of pet food tainted with melamine have been recalled this year.

Self-defense: Look for protein sources, such as chicken, chicken meal, beef and lamb meal -- rather than cheap fillers, such as cornmeal, wheat, oatmeal or millet -- as the main ingredient in the pet food you buy. Visit
to get the latest information on pet food recalls.


Recall updates

Stay alert to future dangers by monitoring recalls listed on the FDA Web site,

Consumer products. In 2006, three out of every four US recalls of imported products involved imports from China. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), which handles product safety inspections, has suffered severe staff and budget cuts. Also, it is not legally allowed to alert the public to a hazard until the case against the manufacturer is resolved.


Tires Problem: A missing safety feature called a "gum strip" that binds belts of a tire together so the tread does not separate from the tire... or gum strips that were not large enough. Tread separation can cause loss of vehicle control.

Recalls: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered the distributor Foreign Tire Sales Inc. to recall defective tires intended for pickups, sport-utility vehicles and light trucks. The distributor has recalled 255,000 tires, with the brand names Westlake, Compass and YKS.

Self-defense: US Customs requires country-of-origin labels on all tires made outside the US. Avoid tires from China.


Children's Toys Problem: Lead.

Recalls: This summer, Mattel announced worldwide recalls of 2.7 million toys with paint that had high levels of lead. Since 2003, the CPSC has announced recalls of more than 165 million pieces of children's jewelry with high levels of lead, many of them sold in vending machines.

Self-defense: Buy toys labeled "Made in USA" or those made by European companies with good reputations for safety, such as Lego of Denmark and Haba of Germany. Avoid cheap children's jewelry found in vending machines and discount stores and all children's metal jewelry. Favor brand-name retailers. Example: Toys "R" Us has stepped up third-party testing for lead in toys it sells and increased its quality-assurance budget by 25%.

Get recall updates. Sign up for CPSC alerts at so that when a product is recalled, you will get an E-mail.

Sources: Donald L. Mays is senior director of product safety planning and technical administration at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, Yonkers, New York. Mays serves on the boards of directors of the American National Standards Institute and the International Consumer Products Health and Safety Organization. (From


The price of corn is the highest in a decade.  Ethanol plants are sprouting up in the corn fields.  Land prices are turning farmers with 200 acres into millionaires.  And yet, they still get direct government subsidy checks to "save the family farm."  "We're harvesting the sun," one of the new breed of business-man farmers boasts to Dan Morgan in today's Wash Post.  Maybe "harvesting moonshine" would be more accurate.  There is no credible study showing that ethanol is saving one drop of oil.

Source: WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park


One of the global warming nightmares is that thawing permafrost might  release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  This positive feedback would  accelerate warming.  A group led by M. Turetsky of Michigan State found  that new plant growth in thawing Canadian peat bogs more than offset the release of methane.

Sep 28, 2007

'Green Fuel' Harming Rainforests

A Sky News investigation has revealed that filling up with bio diesel containing palm oil is helping to destroy some of the world's most precious rainforests.
With forecourts across Europe and the United States now offering the so-called "green fuel", demand for palm oil has boomed.
But the well-intentioned switch to biofuels in the West is destroying Borneo's rainforests - one of the greenest places on Earth.
Environmentalists claim that an area of forest the size of Wales was cleared last year as Indonesia cashes in on the new "green gold" and plants miles of palm oil trees to meet surging demand.

The UN says the entire rainforest will be gone in 15 years, and the native wild orang-utan extinct in just 10.
Nine hundred of the apes are now caged refugees. Others are found shot or macheted after being killed trying to eat the palm saplings that have replaced their homes.
It is not only the drive for palm oil that is destroying the jungle. China is the main buyer of illegal logs and minerals from here.

I found a zircon mine that had turned the forest into a desert. How on earth could the authorities not have noticed the moonscape left behind?
Groups trying to highlight the destruction are being threatened by the developers.

Lone Droscher, from the Borneo Orang-utan Survival Group, said: "If they cannot buy you off, they try to threaten you. This has happened to us a lot."
Indonesia says it has banned the burning and cutting of jungle for palm oil - but our investigation found mile after mile of freshly cut and burned rainforest.
Ninety new biodiesel factories are under construction here - the developers encouraged by far-away countries "going green".
The palm oil saplings here are planted. Those believing it to be a green fuel will never see the beauty of what it replaced.

DOE to Invest up to $20 Million for Plug-In Hybrid Research

DOE announced on Tuesday that it will invest nearly $20 million in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) research. PHEVs have the potential to displace a large amount of gasoline by delivering up to 40 miles of electric range without recharging—a distance that includes most daily roundtrip commutes. Five projects will be cost-shared with the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), allowing up to $38 million for battery research and development. The companies selected for the projects include EnerDel, Inc. in Indiana; A123Systems in Massachusetts; Compact Power Inc. in Michigan; 3M in Minnesota; and Johnson Controls – Saft Advanced Power Solutions in Wisconsin. The projects will focus on developing batteries and cells for 10- and 40-mile range PHEVs and building small cells to test new cathode materials.

Air Pollution Triggers Blood Clots - Reuters

US Study: September 21, 2007

CHICAGO - Tiny particles of air pollution -- less than one tenth the width of a human hair -- can trigger clotting in the blood, US researchers said on Thursday in a finding that helps explain how air pollution causes heart attacks and strokes.

Large population studies have shown pollution from the exhaust of trucks, buses and coal-burning factories increases the risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes.
But researchers have not understood how these microscopic particles actually kill people.

"We now know how the inflammation in the lungs caused by air pollutants leads to death from cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Gokhan Mutlu of Northwestern University in Chicago, who studied the effects of air pollution in mice.

Lungs inflamed by pollution secrete interleukin-6, an immune system compound that sparks inflammation and has been shown to make blood more likely to clot.

The research appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. It follows a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine that found breathing diesel fumes interfered with heart attack survivors' ability to break down blood clots.

Mutlu got a clue about the clotting issue two years ago when he was studying the effects of air pollution on heart failure in mice. Mice who had been exposed to pollution bled significantly less.
"They were forming blood clots," he said in a telephone interview.

In the latest study, he and colleagues exposed mice to particles of air pollution collected by the US Environmental Protection Agency. These were mixed with a saline solution and injected into the lungs of mice.

Mice exposed to pollution showed a 15-fold increase in interleukin-6 just 24 hours later. That time frame is important because some studies have shown a spike in air pollution can boost heart attacks with 24 hours. "This suggested that interleukin-6 was the driving force," Mutlu said.

Reuters first Global Environment Summit

Is being held on October 1-3, will generate a series of exclusive interviews and articles which will be available by clicking on the following link:

Sep 27, 2007

Additives: Diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease have become the big killers.

"There is good reason to think that certain additives create harm well beyond hyperactivity in children -- they may also play an important role in disease and mental illness in adults.... these dangerous chemicals have remained legal for use in food.
It is true that some additives are required for food production.

Nonetheless, we must demand that our government adopts the precautionary principle.

This was described by the Guardian as "an embarrassment" to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which approved the use of the following chemicals, well known for their adverse effects on many children: sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) ponceau 4R (E124), and sodium benzoate (E211).

All but sodium benzoate, an antibacterial preservative, are colours with natural replacements available. The purity of the chemicals involved is controlled for industrial use but not for their use in foods.

The issue now is connected with the scapegoating of young people -- the FSA's response to the University of Southampton
report which was the basis for the recent newspaper scares was called "Hyperactivity And Colours: Advice To Parents".

Read more from Rachel's

Sep 26, 2007

Frog Deformities Blamed on Farm and Ranch Runoff

WASHINGTON - Horrific deformities in frogs are the result of a cascade of events that starts when nitrogen and phosphorus from farming and ranching bleed into lakes and ponds, researchers said on Monday.

To examine the role of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff on the process, the researchers created 36 ponds in Wisconsin and stocked them with snails and frog tadpoles. They added nitrogen and phosphorus and observed the consequences.

The ponds with added nitrogen and phosphorus had their snail population, parasitic worm egg production and infection rate of frogs increase greatly, according to the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 
Read full here

Sep 17, 2007

Joel Makower-What's Behind the Green Consumer Research?

I've seen enough research data on Americans' green buying habits over nearly twenty years that I've become immune to much of it. It's not that I think such research is shoddy; it's just that I've found consumers' credibility on the issue wanting, as I've noted in several . . . previous . . . posts.

Consider: A 1989 survey by the Michael Peters Group, a now-defunct consulting firm based in New York and London, found 89% of Americans saying they were concerned...

Click here for more from Joel Here . »

Sep 12, 2007

Biofuels Offer Cure Worse Than the Disease - OECD

 Biofuels, championed for reducing energy reliance, boosting farm revenues and helping fight climate change, may in fact hurt the environment and push up food prices, a study suggested on Tuesday.
"The current push to expand the use of biofuels is creating unsustainable tensions that will disrupt markets without generating significant environmental benefits," the OECD said.
"When acidification, fertiliser use, biodiversity loss and toxicity of agricultural pesticides are taken into account, the overall environmental impacts of ethanol and biodiesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel," it added.
The OECD therefore called on governments to cut their subsidies for the sector and instead encourage research into technologies that would avoid competing for land use with food production.
"Governments should cease to create new mandates for biofuels and investigate ways to phase them out," it said.
The OECD said tax incentives put in place in many regions, including the European Union and the United States, to encourage biofuel output could hide other objectives.
"Biofuel policies may appear to be an easy way to support domestic agriculture against the backdrop of international negotiations to liberalise agricultural trade," it said.
"A litre of gasoline or diesel conserved because a person walks, rides a bicycles, carpools or tunes up his or her vehicle's engine more often is a full litre of gasoline or diesel saved at a much lower cost to the economy than subsidising inefficient new sources of supply," it said.
Biofuels, made mainly from grains, oilseeds and sugar, have been accused of being responsible for a recent surge in farm commodities prices, along with other factors such as lower output and tight stocks.
The OECD, which said in July that it saw biofuels keeping prices at high levels into the next decade, said it would lead to an unavoidable "food-versus-fuel" debate.
"Any diversion of land from food or feed production to production of energy biomass will influence food prices from the start, as both compete for the same input," it said.

Story by Sybille de La Hamaide REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

Sep 11, 2007


Land that was once used to grow food is increasingly being turned over to biofuels. This may help us to fight global warming - but it is driving up food prices throughout the world and making life increasingly hard in developing countries. Add in water shortages, natural disasters and an ever-rising population, and what you have is a recipe for disaster. . .
The era of "agrofuels" has arrived, and the scale of the changes it is already forcing on farming and markets around the world is immense. In Nebraska alone, an extra million acres of maize have been planted this year, and the state boasts it will produce 1bn gallons of ethanol. Across the US, 20% of the whole maize crop went to ethanol last year. How much is that? Just 2% of US automobile use. . .
The Indian government says it wants to plant 35m acres (140,000 sq km) of biofuel crops, Brazil as much as 300m acres (1.2m sq km). Southern Africa is being touted as the future Middle East of biofuels, with as much as 1bn acres (4m sq km) of land ready to be converted to crops such as Jatropha curcas (physic nut), a tough shrub that can be grown on poor land. Indonesia has said it intends to overtake Malaysia and increase its palm oil production from 16m acres (64,000 sq km) now to 65m acres (260,000 sq km) in 2025. . . JOHN VIDAL, GUARDIAN


New research made public for the first time confirming the link between artificial additives and disruptive behavior in children is splashed across many of the front pages. The study, the biggest of its kind, found that after consuming a drink containing a mix of additives that reflected the daily intake of a British child, the children in the study became more boisterous and lost concentration.

The government's Food Standards Agency has responded by issuing revised guidance to consumers, recommending that they steer clear of products containing certain E-numbers if their children show signs of hyperactivity.

The Guardian says this move has "confounded" experts who believe the government has missed an opportunity to take a tougher line by banning the additives completely, instead of placing the burden on parents. . . .


MIKE STOBBE, ASSOCIATED PRESS - [A] study examined whether a community's walkability affected obesity rates. The research showed that exercisers had a similarly low obesity rate whether they lived in walkable neighborhoods or not. It was 12 percent for those in walkable areas versus 15 percent in non-walkable neighborhoods, a difference that was not statistically significant.

Among those who prefer to drive, however, about 21.5 percent were obese, and it also didn't matter whether they lived in walkable or non-walkable neighborhoods.

The distances driven were also noted. Exercisers in walkable neighborhoods drove 26 miles a day, while those in non-walkable neighborhoods drove about 37 miles.

Among non-exercisers, those in walkable neighborhoods drove 26 miles, and compared to 43 miles in areas that were mostly car-friendly.


ANDREA THOMPSON, LIVE - Water, air and soil pollution, along with other environmental factors, contribute to 40 percent of deaths worldwide each year, a new study concludes. In a review of research into the effects of environmental pollutants and other sources of environmental degradation, Cornell University ecologist David Pimentel estimates that 62 million deaths per year (40 percent of all that occur) can be attributed to environmental factors, particularly organic and chemical pollutants that accumulate in the air we breathe and the water we drink. . . With an estimated 1.1 billion people in the world lacking access to clean water (according to WHO estimates), it is little wonder that waterborne infections account for 80 percent of all infectious diseases in the world. . .

Water contaminated with untreated sewage and fecal matter can facilitate the transmission of diarrheal diseases such as cholera (bacteria that live in feces), intestinal infections (which can compound health issues by causing malnutrition) and other diseases—all of which kill millions every year, especially children. A 2004 study by the Population Resource Center found that 2.2 million infants and children die each year from diarrhea, caused largely by contaminated water and food.

Sep 5, 2007

Coke Launches Lighter Bottles That Use Less Plastic

Coca-Cola Co said Tuesday it launched a new 20-ounce plastic bottle for its cola drinks that uses 5 percent less plastic, in a bid to please some critics of the beverage industry who claim its reliance on plastic aides global warming.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Coke was planning to build a plant that will be able to recycle as many as 2 billion 20-ounce bottles a year, but that Coke declined to say exactly where the plant would be or when it would open.

Haase Comments: Better late than never... Now what do you think Coke will do about the millions of tons of CO2 pumped into bottling soda ;-)

A Bar-Ilan professor's invention may revolutionize the use of solar energy.

A Bar-Ilan nanotechnology expert has invented a photovoltaic cell - which produces electricity from the sun's rays - that could be dramatically cheaper to produce.

"Initially, we created linked arrays of very small cells, which led to a loss of efficiency because the sunlight hitting the space between the cells was not converted to electricity," Zaban explained. With much more surface area, the new array actively captures the sun's energy and becomes "a practical choice for solar energy production," he said.

Zaban's cells feature a sponge-like array of microscopic "nanodots" arranged on flexible plastic sheets. The key to his system is the use of standard semiconductor material injected with an organic dye, which makes it become energy absorbent.

Orionsolar, a Jerusalem-based company that has entered into a partnership with Bar-Ilan, is developing commercial applications for inexpensive, dye-based photovoltaics based on Zaban's work.

"Given the state of the technology, I believe that the new solar cells will be available commercially within the next five years," he said. "This will mark the beginning of a whole new path that combines independence from fossil fuels with a greener, more sustainable future."

Another of his recent discoveries involves reducing the amount of platinum used in photovoltaic cells, another important step towards reducing production costs. "We've found a way to produce platinum nanodots ... [which] reduce the amount of platinum needed by a factor of 40," he said.

Read full here